Celebrating Pride Month
Rock climber Alex Johnson discusses LGBTQI+ youth in sports, her experiences as a queer athlete, and the inspiration behind our new beer, Rainbow Wall, that benefits Athlete Ally.
Just outside of Las Vegas, at the heart of the Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area, stands a sheer sandstone wall. Striped with vivid reds, oranges, and yellows, and culminating in a graceful arching summit, the stunning rock formation is aptly called the Rainbow Wall.
The Rainbow Wall holds a special place in rock climber Alex Johnson’s heart for many reasons. She once spent 14 hours climbing the tall, vertical face, a feat of strength and determination for any climber, but this is also where she first felt she was able to be 100 percent unabashedly herself.Alex chose to name our new beer after the Rainbow Wall because it portrays so much to her; the LGBTQI+ community, representation, inclusion, pushing through tough times, and the opportunity to be yourself.
We are very excited and honored to be able to offer the Rainbow Wall beer in honor and celebration of Pride Month. All proceeds from sales of this beer will be donated to Athlete Ally, an organization dedicated to ending the rampant homophobia and transphobia in sports.
Alex grew up in the Midwest, an area where being cisgender and straight is valued above any other sexual orientation or gender identity. She started climbing at the local climbing gym, a converted grain silo, when she was a young girl. At only 9 years old, Alex started winning climbing competitions. She remembers trying to hide her sexuality in school, but was still bullied and made fun of. She felt that she was different, and that the other kids knew that.
“I definitely was concerned with losing friends and I didn't want my friends to think I had crushes on them or make any relationships weird. I think that was one of my other biggest fears,” she recalls. But it wasn’t until she moved to Las Vegas that she started feeling like she could be more open about her sexuality. “People just seemed to be more mellow out there,” she says. “And the people who knew me, knew. It wasn’t a secret.”When it came to her climbing career though, Alex was wary of coming out. “I wasn't out publicly or professionally and I think I was concerned with it being the outdoor industry. I didn't know if I would be accepted or seen differently or dropped from sponsors.”
This is a real concern for a lot of LGBTQI+ athletes. Historically, the sports space has not been particularly welcoming for anyone other than cisgender white males, let alone those who stretch the orthodox gender and sexuality boundaries. It all changed for Alex when a young athlete approached her after getting bullied at school. Alex had moved back to Wisconsin to coach and to refocus on her own indoor training. The young athlete was on the climbing team that Alex was coaching, and her distress came from being bullied at school for liking other girls. Alex immediately sympathized because she once stood right where this young athlete stood, but she was surprised that Gen-z kids were still bullying other kids for their sexuality. “I kinda thought that whole generation was above all this and was more accepting,” Alex says. “It kinda blew my mind that she was getting bullied at school for that.”
Alex had a realization. “I'm totally doing a massive disservice to this young girl on my team, or any other young athlete in the world, or anyone who doesn't know that they have me as an ally, part of the community, or someone to look to who represents them in a professional sport.”
It didn’t take Alex long to make the decision to come out publicly. When she got home from coaching that day, she made an announcement through her Instagram. Alex was blown away by the amount of love and support she received.
"I was dating Bree and we had been together for almost five years,” she says. “There was a massive outpouring of support and encouragement, and it honestly couldn't have gone better… I was just really insecure and hiding behind how I felt growing up in the midwest. It was met with so much positivity. It was awesome.”
As soon as Alex came out publicly, she knew that she needed to use her platform to make a difference for other LGBTQI+ athletes, so she reached out to the organization, Athlete Ally, to see what she could do to help young athletes feel more included, safe, and to help bring awareness.
“I think my story and how widely accepted and positive it was is uncommon. I think a lot of kids in the queer community have really bad experiences,” Alex says. “I'm hopeful that telling my story is encouraging to them to know that even if you do have a really shitty coming out story, that's not the end of your story. It can get better from there.”Alex quotes a statistic that 80 percent of young LGBTQ in sports are not out to their coaches or their teammates. That’s a huge number. But Alex resonates with that. “I was one of those kids,” she says. “I was bullied in school and that's why I resonated with my youth athlete so strongly.”
Alex is driven to do more for her community. “Athlete Ally is an organization that I followed on Instagram and I saw that they were doing really awesome things. Their message is to combat transphobia and homophobia in sports. I feel like sports, especially mainstream sports and mainstream male sports can be really transphobic and homophobic. So the work they are doing really inspired me, and because I just came out, I really wanted to do more,” she says.
Now taking a stand for her community, Alex is ready to make a larger impact. So she had the idea to bring her favorite beer and the organization she stood for together in a collaboration to bring awareness and raise money for Athlete Ally.
“This partnership felt really natural to me. Wanting to create a beer around pride and have something to give back to the community and represent the community that I'm proud to be a part of now, and then naturally connect it with Athlete Ally and the work they do,” Alex says. “Athletic [Brewing] is such a sports-focused beer company that it just felt really natural to me. I'm really stoked that it came to fruition.”
Beer is a way to connect with people and start conversations. “It’s something that everyone loves and it’s sort of an ice breaker,” Alex says. “When you’re out climbing and then sitting around the campfire at the end of the day, if it's a pride beer or a rainbow focused beer then it's a conversation starter and that's something that is really cool.”
This beer is the culmination of everything that Alex loves and wants to portray. It represents the LGBTQI+ community and being your true self. It brings in the world of rock climbing as well as supporting an organization that will help kids feel accepted and welcome in the sports industry.
“I think we've come a long way since I was in the locker room, but we definitely have a long way to go still.”
To the LGBTQI+ community, Rainbow Wall is for you.
Climb on. Rise up. Be you.